Campervanning France Information
Need Campervanning France Information for your Campervan Cycling Holiday but Don't Know Where to Start?
Though this article focuses on France, the insights are applicable to any destination.
Booking a campervan for France can be a daunting and very expensive experience. If you don't leverage all the contacts and information at your disposal, you could pay way more than needed.
I've been through this process a few times now, so I think it's time I shared some insights to help you save time and money!
This is a long-ish post so feel free to skip to each section.
- Why Campervan
- When to Start Looking
- The Campervans
- The Providers
- Drivers License
- Campervan Locations
Campervanning France guide
If you are looking for all this information – and a lot more – in a single guide, check out the Campervanning France Guide.
Top 5 Reasons You Need My Guide to Campervanning France
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First up, let's quickly look at the advantages of campervanning.
Seeing France (and following Le Tour) in a campervan offers you the ultimate in flexibility. Whilst there are some drawbacks such as longer driving times, reduced agility on the road and increased fuel use, if you're not in a rush to get from point to point, they offer the best tradeoff between the flexibility and comfort.
Being able to stop somewhere that you really like, and spend a night or two, is a really great benefit. Check out the photo below from 2009, taken in Chamonix. We were passing through and decided to prop up on the side of the road. This was very easy, and we didn't need to go driving around looking for available accommodation.
I go through the pros and cons extensively of campervans versus cars/hotels in the Cycling Through France Guide, so if you want a more in-depth analysis, check it out here.
This article is written from the perspective that you've decided to campervan, rather than providing points that help you decide.
Timing – When to Start Looking
The time to start booking for 2011 is right now. If you're reading this sometime in the future, you really must book about 10-11 months ahead – supply can be that tight for certain campervans.
We have just booked (early November 2011) and have only just managed to secure something of a suitable size. However, we were very particular about what we wanted which narrowed our options somewhat.
Our picky-ness with the van meant we had to compromise a lot on our airport options as we had to go with McRent. We had wanted to fly in to Lyon or Geneva and out of Toulouse, but the only way to do that was with Avis at a cost of AUD$11,000 for 30-odd days. Crazy stuff!
The difficulty for a lot of people visiting for the Tour de France or L'Etape is that we don't know where the TDF or L'Etape will be until early October, and you really need to have a campervan lined up a few months before that.
The best advice I can give here, is if you want to minimise the risk of not getting the van you want, book early and fly in to an airport like Paris, Geneva, Lyon, Nice, Toulouse or Barcelona and prepare to do some driving. Keep in mind that once you've booked your van it will be very hard to change the booking.
If you can only go for a few weeks, and want to book your van and flights early, you're going to have to hope that the TdF and Etape locations suit your itinerary.
If you hedge your bets and wait for the TdF and Etape parcours announcement, you might not get the van you want, at the airport you need.
If you are going for a longer period, you can book earlier, confident you'll have time for a couple of long transfers on the road if needed.
When looking at campervans, the size you'll need is largely determined by how many people are going. There are of course other considerations such as overall size, amenities, bike storage and so on, but the basic consideration is accommodating everyone without bringing on a bad case of cabin fever.
I haven't included every type of campervan obviously. These are just starting points.
For myself and girlfriend (hi Kate!) in 2011, we'll only need a small van that sleeps two, with no need for a toilet or shower (we can stealth those at camp grounds).
Here's a picture of the size of a van a couple might look for. It's called a Compact Standard and has 2 beds, so is probably a little big.
Here's what we had in 2009. Affectionately called The Beast, it certainly was a beast to wrangle in the mountains during endless col-bashing, was horrible in small towns and streets (hello Strasbourg and Bedoin) and was a dicey proposition when moving into the fast lane on the Autobahns. BMWs move awfully fast.
But overall, if there's two of you, this is what you want. It's called a Family Compact Plus and would accomodate 2 guys + bikes, or a couple + bikes, or a family with one bike if you have a bike rack.
More people or more bikes means you need a bigger van.
The one below is called a Group Compact Plus – probably still big enough for 2 singles.
This list is by no means exhaustive, but here's who I recommend checking out. Remember that you'll be passing through a couple of middlemen when booking but there's not a huge difference in pricing in going direct (I've checked) as the middlemen access the providers at wholesale rates.
The added benefit of using your travel agent to book flights and the van means you'll be able to ensure the flights and van hire match up. If you go through different agencies for flights and vans it'll greatly increase the back and forth as you try and match up flights and booking dates.
The main providers of rental campervans in France are Avis and McRent.
For third party providers (agents), I recommend checking out the below wholesalers:
- Global Cars – for Aussies mainly, access to good availability and deals.
- Ashtons Direct – located in South Africa, but they seem to have access to good deals.
- Cycling Adventures – again, mainly for Aussies, these guys are cycling specialists.
- Origin Campervans – pickup/dropoff in Lille Only. Origin will pick you up from Lille Station. Lille is 50 minutes from Paris by TGV, and 90mins from London by Eurostar.
I always recommend getting an International Driver's License (IDL) before going to France/Europe. Even though during the last two visits I have not been asked for one, I like to mitigate the risk and get one anyway. They don't cost much and are usually valid for a year.
In addition to getting an IDL, you need to make sure that the drivers license from your home country allows you to drive a campervan of the size you hire.
A standard drivers license will let you drive something of a similar size to the Family Compact Plus shown above – anything bigger and you may need a different license.
All of this presumes you'll get asked about it by the hire company, but chances are, you won't.
There are some tricks to be mindful of when booking.
Tims Excellent Campervan Tips:
- McRent are typically much cheaper than Avis (for example) but are much less flexible. Most of their depots are not open on Sunday or Monday, and open on Saturday by prior arrangement only.
- Avis allow one-way hires. This means you can hire in, for example, Lyon, and drop off in Toulouse. Expect to pay around 400 Euros for the privilege. McRent do not allow one-way hires.
- The McRent depots are typically not located near an airport, so you will need a taxi big enough to accomodate one or more bikes (if you take them). Many European taxis are very small and it's hard to get a mini-bus size taxi like an Australian mini-van taxi. Be wary of this if you have a stopover at an Asian airport like Hong Kong.
- McRent make you clean your own van. Be prepared to get to the depot the day before departure, clean your van, then sleep in it overnight before departing for the airport the next day. This costs you a day of your trip, depending how much cleaning needs to be done. No toilet and no shower make this a much quicker exercise.
- Most campers are diesels, and have manual gearboxes.
- Campervans.com have a good selection of campers, including VW Californias.
Expect to pay in the order of 150 Euros a day for a small camper.
Bear in mind though, that the campervan doubles as accommodation and car hire.
Even if you manage to secure a car for around 50-100 Euro a day, you'll still need 50-100 Euro a day for accommodation depending on your tastes, and how much you're moving around.
In 2010, we hired a Mercedes Viano (standard passenger/transit van) for 2 weeks, which cost us around 500 Euro (between 3 people). Our accommodation was in one place for 2 weeks, and so was about 20 Euros a night each for an apartment.
Moving around costs money. For 2011, I got the following quotes:
- McRent: AUD$6600 for 33 days, unlimited mileage. Pickup/dropoff Paris only. Group Compact.
- Avis: AUD$12000 for 33 days, unlimited mileage, one way-hire (cost €400 included). Pickup Geneva or Nice, drop off Toulouse. Group Compact.
- Campervans.com quoted me £2234.13 for around 33 days, pickup/dropoff in Paris, for a VW California. However, the quote limited us to 300km/day. They quoted us €4181.90 (around €135/day) for a Compact Globescout, pickup/drop off in Paris.
- Origin Campervans quoted me €2770 for 30 days with unlimited mileage, full insurance and 24/7 roadside assist for a VW van. Their VW California, which has a kitchenette but no toilet or shower, was quoted at €4170, unlimited mileage, full insurance and 24/7 roadside assist.
If you want to know more about costs (including car/hotel cost comparison), click here.
Whilst Avis is at most international airports in Europe, and has campervans available at most, McRent's depot footprint is much smaller. This small footprint severely limits your options for airports; no flying in to Geneva or Nice.
Campervans.com seems to aggregate for different providers, so the locations will depend what they can find.
Please, please, please make sure you have adequate insurance.
As I mentioned before, driving campervans around is tricky at times and the cost of even the simplest parts (like a plastic corner fairing) will be a few hundred Euro if you break it. Having excellent insurance is critical, and I recommend the insurance provided through a platinum credit card.
I always book my flights and car/camper hire through this card, which ensures I receive excellent cover. This saved my bacon in 2009, after a dust-up between our campervan fairing and a poorly constructed road (damage: 350 Euro). The insurance company paid with no fuss at all.
Pitfall Summary (aka Top Tips)
Here's a summary of the key things to watch out for when booking.
- At the airport, pre-book a big taxi for you and your bike gear to get you to the depot if it's not at the airport. Many airports don't have mini-bus taxis waiting on an ad-hoc basis.
- Make sure the depot will be open when you arrive, and when you need to leave. Otherwise you'll need to overnight in the arrival/departure town.
- Make sure your drivers license allows you to drive a campervan.
- Be aware you may need to clean your campervan – this may depend on the depot and company. If cleaning is required, allow an extra day in your trip to ensure you can get to the depot and clean the van which may take a couple of hours.
- Make sure you get unlimited kilometres, or at least 500km/day.
If you follow these tips, you'll have a great starting to point to minimise hassles on your trip.
Got any good tips? Drop them in the comments below or email me using the form below.
As a side note, it's patently clear to me that someone with capital needs to start a lean, funky focussed business, hiring campers out to cyclists from airports like Toulouse, Geneva, Lyon and Nice, with zero one way surcharge and open 7 days a week. The person who sets this up will crack the model and make plenty of money. Note: if anyone out there like that exists, email me as I'd be interested in partnering.
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G’day – I share your sentiments re starting up a flexible cycling focussed camper van hire business. We are flying in to lyon on Sunday 12 august 2012 and leaving Lyon Monday 20 August 2012 at 6am therefore need to drop camper van back late sunday and overnight in lyon. Do you reckon I can find one that opens on Sunday. I have spent hours on the net trying to sort this out. Any suggestions?
Nick Walter – 0419 030 286
Hey Nick – I don’t like your chances. Unfortunately, French campervan companies are run by French people (no offence to the French readers), and usually, their business sensibilities don’t run to a timetable that suits international flight arrival times, or being open through lunch or later in the day. You’ll especially struggle with one being open on Sunday (sounds like Perth!).
Your best bet is to drop off Saturday and have a day in Lyon.
If I had a few hundred k$ in capital, I’d open campervan hire right near Toulouse, Geneva, Nice and Lyon airports and organise transfers from the airport for cyclists. And allow pick up at one depot, drop off at another.
Someone’s finally done what you suggested Tim and opened a campervan rental company near Geneva airport. Seems the days are flexible, they organise airport transfers, and they rent bikes and racks too. Check http://www.champervan.com
Hi Sarah, thanks for this. Would be good to see them closer to GVA, but at least there’s a transfer organised. Would be good to see bigger/newer vans too. But they look good!
Also, there’s a 100km/day limit which is very, very low. I’ve been known to do 500km in a day transferring around.